Alexis, in his latest blog post, talks about finding time to read and says he has given up television to find time for reading. I know many a people who say they do not find time to read. To quote Alexis – “People who are passionate about books and who love reading would somehow find time to read; at least a few pages or chapters every day. For them reading is like eating. If they don’t read they starve.” And I believe in that.
Let me tell you, I have that irresistible feeling, which I cannot explain, deep down the heart if I do not read everyday. It has become an addiction. This year I had moved out and was staying alone, since the last standing roommate also decided to tie the knot. I had lot of time at hand and lot of books to read. Sometimes I shut out TV completely. There were weekends where I never switched it on. I slept just for sleeping except in the weekends, when I woke up at 10 AM. I stayed late and read. I read in the toilet, and I read in lifts. I read while my system rebooted, and I read at the office cafeteria. It has been a year of solitary reading, which I am proud of. This post is not about my achievements in reading this year, but about the good books I read in English and I hope you too read them.
I started the year with A Town called Dehra, by Ruskin Bond on a train en route to Bhubaneswar. It is a simple book where the author explains the town, Dehradun, where he was brought up. I then moved on to The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Ah! What can I say about the master? The story is about a father, his 3 sons, his death and an illegitimate son Smerdyakov and the search for the murderer. The novel also portrays Oedipal theme in a very mild manner. It is novel about crime, passion, jealousy and love. Dostoyevsky has put in a lot of autobiographical elements in his final novel and the best part of the book is the characterization of people of the novel. You will feel hatred for the father, Fyodor Karamazov and think whether such persons do exist. They hit on you and believe me it is definitely going to give you a hangover. And the best quote I liked from it is Father Zosima’s advice to Fyodor Karamazov – “A man who lies to himself, and believes his own lies, becomes unable to recognize truth, either in himself or in anyone else, and he ends up losing respect for himself and for others. When he has no respect for anyone, he can no longer love, and in him, he yields to his impulses, indulges in the lowest form of pleasure, and behaves in the end like an animal in satisfying his vices. And it all comes from lying-to others and to yourself”. The Brothers Karamazov is undoubtedly the best book I read this year.
The next best thing I read would be Amulet, by Roberto Bolano and The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene, followed by The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Amulet is about a woman’s resistance to the Mexican army’s 1968 invasion of the university where she studied. As she lay down in the women’s toilet she recalls her bohemian way of life. She calls herself the “Mother of Mexican Poetry”. I always loved Latin American authors and this one, which may not be the best of Bolano, truly reflects the life of Latin American poets and writers during the times when Mexican unrest.
The Power and the Glory is also set in Mexico but covers a different theme. Its main protagonist is the unnamed Roman Catholic priest, called as the “whisky priest” for his love for alcohol, who evades the anti clerical governor and his secret police in an area where Catholicism is outlawed. But the priest is sinful and is haunted by the past especially the fact that he has fathered a child. He also meets a Judas like character in his journey who finally tips him of to the Police Lieutenant. The priest is captured and killed, but in the end we see another priest coming to the same area, may be suggesting that power of Catholic Church.
The Scarlet Letter talks about the themes of sin and guilt. In the 17th Century Boston a married young woman, Hester Prynne, is accused of committing adultery and giving birth to a child. She is not ready to reveal the name of her lover, the father of the child. So as a punishment for committing adultery, on the breast of her gown, a rag of scarlet cloth that is of the shape of a letter is stitched up. The upper case letter is A, which represents adultery that she has committed and it is a letter of shame for the entire town. She is forced to live in the outskirts of the town after being shunned by the entire community. Meanwhile her husband now assuming the name of Roger Chillingworth comes to the town and takes up the role of a medical practitioner for the ministry. He has his own doubts about Hester’s lover and soon founds out that it is none other than a Minister of the City, Dimmesdale. A letter A, supposedly burned onto the Dimmesdale’s chest under mysterious circumstances, is seen by Chillingworth when he attends Dimmesdale for his mysterious heart trouble. Chillingworth’s suspicion is confirmed and he now wants revenge. Nathaniel Hawthorne has handled the theme of sin and guilt with dense psychological details. It is too painful to read at times and needs a lot of patience.
Roots: The saga of an American Family is a big, time consuming novel written by Alex Haley about the African slaves brought into America. It follows the protagonist Kunta Kinte from his birth in a small village Juffure in Gambia, Africa to his arrival in America. He was a practicing Muslim of Madinka tribe before being captured and enslaved by the Whites. It then traces his journey to Americas in filthy conditions, his escape attempts, his marriage and raising kid. I read it till there and found it too hard to move. Nevertheless it’s a good book if one wants to understand about the conditions in which slaves where brought up once upon a time in America. The tough part of the book is to understand is the Language spoken by the Black Americans in those times.
Zorba the Greek written by the Greek Novelist Nikos Kazantzakis is my current read. It is the story of mysterious and adventurous Alexis Zorba who befriends the narrator, who is ready to leave for Crete to open a lignite mine. Zorba approaches him for work and the narrator is fascinated with Zorba’s opinion and attitude. He decides to have him as his guy to over see the mining. Once at Crete the narrator, who has socialist ideologies, tries to befriend the workers. Zorba warns him saying – “Man is a brute.... If you're cruel to him, he respects and fears you. If you're kind to him, he plucks your eyes out.” I am yet to finish it and by the way it is going I should finish it fast. It is interesting and it is about Zorba only. He is the main character around which the story is revolved. The way in which he handles people, his thoughts about life, the way he seduces Madam Hortense and makes love, his adventurous mind, all leaves a big impression on you.
That ends the list and post. It has been a year where I bought a lot of books too. I couldn’t go to the Bangalore Book Festival this year, but still Blossom, Mathrubhumi and DC Books didn’t disappoint me in my quest for books. I have been also been reading a lot of Malayalam Novels, Short stories and Screenplays and have written about the same in my Malayalam Blog
And as I started this post quoting Alexis, let me end this post with the same message that Alexis has put out in his post. For this Christmas and New Year when you are buying gifts for kids buy them books instead of a play station or video game. Take them to the local library and get them a membership. Read out books to them if possible and inculcate the love for books and passion for reading. Teach them good reading and not just good books.
Wishing you all a Happy Christmas and Prosperous New Year ahead.
Image Courtesy - The Guardian UK